The Washington Post and Rand Paul: Who Is More Wrong About ISIS?

The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, undertook yesterday to assess the truth or falsity of these remarks by Jeb Bush about ISIS:

ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.

Those statements are, by any normal standard, true. But this is what Kessler had to say:

Islamic State, also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), certainly has become an important player in the Middle East, taking advantage of the civil war in Syria and the disarray in the Iraqi government to claim vast areas of both countries. In the past couple of years, the group’s activities have gathered attention in the United States; it was only a year and half ago that President Obama dismissed Islamic State as a “JV team.”

But that doesn’t mean it “didn’t exist,” as Bush put it, during President George W. Bush’s presidency. A quick check of Thomas A. Ricks’ 2009 book “The Gamble” finds a reference to a statement by Islamic State during a 2007 battle. Ricks described it as “a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.”

This is ridiculous. Today, there actually is an Islamic State, a self-declared caliphate, in the Middle East: ISIS controls territory approximately the size of Great Britain. When George Bush was president, there was no Islamic State in the Middle East. The fact that a splinter group issued a statement in 2007 does not obscure the blindingly obvious difference between the state of affairs then and now. More:

Indeed, to a large extent, the Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda of Iraq. In 2007, the Times of London, quoting U.S. intelligence officials, described “a radical plan by Al-Qaeda to take over the Sunni heartland of Iraq and turn it into a militant Islamic state once American troops have withdrawn.”

The National Counterterrorism Center puts it this way: “Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and more recently the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was established in April 2004 by long-time Sunni extremist Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi.” The NCTC notes that Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006 and afterwards his successor announced the formation of the Islamic State.

Yes, and under President Bush and General David Petraeus, al Qaeda in Iraq was, as Jeb Bush said, wiped out. Would anyone listening to Jeb Bush understand him to mean that every single member of AQI was killed? Of course not. But al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out as an effective fighting force and as a threat to the stability of the Iraqi government, as President Obama himself later boasted.

What Jeb Bush said was correct: under President Bush, al Qaeda in Iraq was destroyed as a military and political force, and an Islamic State existed only as a dream in the minds of a few fanatics. Today, tragically, the Islamic State has come into being and its army is rampaging across the region. This is due primarily to President Obama’s deliberate reversal of President Bush’s policies, in particular his premature withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

So how did Glenn Kessler assess the accuracy of Jeb Bush’s comments? Four Pinocchios!


In the Post’s lexicon, four Pinocchios are reserved for “whoppers.” This partisan assessment can only be interpreted as part of the Democratic Party’s attempt to shift the blame for the disasters of Obama’s foreign policies to his predecessor.

Senator Rand Paul views ISIS in, if anything, a more extreme light than the Post’s partisans. On The Morning Joe show yesterday, Paul blamed the existence and growing strength of ISIS on his fellow Republicans:

I doubt that Paul really meant to say that Republicans in Congress are to blame for the rise of ISIS. That proposition is absurd on its face. But it is enough, in my view, to disqualify Paul from serious presidential consideration.

These two episodes illustrate, once again, how closely capital-L libertarians often align with the partisan Left on foreign policy. Like leftists, Paul-style libertarians tend to believe that all problems in the world are caused by the U.S.’s actions. Therefore, if we would simply do nothing, the problems would go away. That view is tempting, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, history–including the history of the last six years–demonstrates conclusively that it is false.